Trail access is a subject that can get the blood boiling of all of us, whether we are mountain biker, horse rider or walker. Each camp has its own arguments and counterarguments.
There are 2 personal anecdotes that immediately spring to mind on this subject:
Once, many years ago, I was riding on a bridleway in the forest. A walker stopped me and tried to berate me for cycling through the forest. He told me that mountain bikers were eroding the trails. He probably expected the customary “f@ck off!” that we sometimes give walkers. But, without missing a beat, I asked him “how did you get here today”? He replied that he “had driven here.”
“Well,” I said, in a calm, steady voice, “I rode here, kindly tell me who is causing the most damage?!” I left him searching for a response that never came.
A few years later, my mum was riding her horse in the same forest. A walker stopped her and told her, in no uncertain terms, that ‘her friends’ had galloped up the bridleway and scared him. Her reply was as cool and quick as mine:
“Firstly, they’re not my friends, and secondly, if you walk on a bridleway, don’t be surprised if you come across horses!”
Retreating with his tail between his legs this man probably thought, ’hell, I met another like you a few years ago!’
Recently, I have started to go walking myself in the countryside. It’s much more enjoyable then I ever imagined, but, more importantly, it’s also quite a lot scarier.
Sure, there is an argument to suggest that walkers have millions of footpaths, so they should stay off the bridleways, but when they do come onto ‘our trails’ it would be helpful to them for us to think about the following point:
Bicycles are actually scarily quiet, until they’re right on you. A bell (I know!), clearing your throat loudly, calling out or investing in some Hope Pro 2 hubs (which are reassuringly noisy when freewheeling!) would help maintain the relationship between walker and cyclist.
My mum also asked me to pass on the following pieces of wisdom:
Although horse riders know that you weave your bike from side to side of the bridleway in search of traction, horses don’t. As far as the horse is concerned, it goes rapidly through the following thoughts:
‘Oh God, they’re going to hit me,’
‘Oh phew, now they’ve gone to the other side of the trail’
Oh God, they’ve moved back to my side of the trail and are going to hit me’
‘Oh phew, they’ve moved away again’
‘Oh God, this time they really are going to hit me!’
And you wonder why the horse then tries to climb up the side of the bank away from you!
For the horse and rider’s sake, it’s good etiquette to slow down as you approach them on your bike (and use a bell, clearing of throat or calling out, as well). In addition, suddenly putting on the anchors with stones flying everywhere may look cool to you, but scares the bejeezers out of a horse. Horses see objects approaching as potential threats, inside their brains they’re rapidly going through flight or fight scenarios, with flight often getting the upper hand.
Horses have pretty good hearing, but can’t hear bicycles approaching from behind until they’re almost alongside them. When they do, they often jump out of their skins, which isn’t much fun for the rider or the poor horse!
Falling off a horse isn’t much fun (I know, I’ve done it a few times).
In summary, all trail users need to learn to understand each other in order to get along…because, at the end of the day, we all have a similar aim: to get away from cities for a day by losing ourselves in the countryside!